When I was a college student, I remember talking to people in Erie who raved about Yuengling Lager, a tasty, simple beer from a then relatively unknown brewery near my hometown in southeastern Pennsylvania. Yuengling was a thing, and people were excited about it.
Little did we know at that time we were on the front end of a beer revolution that would change the industry. Yuengling had done what T.S. Eliot says must happen for art to evolve — it took what the big beer businesses were doing and modified it, made it more unique and made it taste better.
But, that was just the beginning, and breweries like Stoudt’s, Appalachian Vrewing Company , Erie Brewing Company, Lancaster Brewing Company, Yards and a slew of other craft breweries in Pennsylvania took it to the next level, to the extent that we now have three micro-breweries in State College alone, and four in Centre County.
The most recent addition to the scene — Happy Valley Brewing Company — came a few years ago.
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“What we hope is that everybody can find their favorite,” owner Greg Sommers said. “We believe in quality beer, fermented properly so there’s clean fermentation, and then you can find the style you like from among those choices. Everybody has the one they get super excited about, and we want to bring that (to) them in the right atmosphere with the good food, the good service and the good music.”
Speaking of music, HVBC does not disappoint, featuring different artists three nights a week. It also features a high-end, comprehensive sound system with speakers laced throughout the downstairs, so patrons can sit anywhere in the room and hear the music at the same level as if they were sitting directly in front of the band.
“We are fortunate to have so many talented musicians in State College,” Sommers said. “It’s a real pleasure to work with them and to connect them with our guests. It’s a vibe, and as long as we stay with that vibe, there’s a harmonic resonance between the listener and the performer, and that’s what it’s about. That’s why I love and have always sought out live music in hospitality venues. The opportunity to present that to people — the music that we love — that’s a real privilege for us.”
The flavor of the music is diverse, just like the beer and the food, and Sommers often near obsesses about maintaining a vibe he and co-owner Scott Lucchesi agree on, a vibe that values classic rock, originality and an emphasis on the artistic expression of the individuals and groups who are hired to perform. There is even a member of the staff who — a la the Nashville scene — is known to take a break from her tables to sing her soul out with whomever is booked for the night.
“I love it,” said Olivia Jones, a waitress at HVBC who plans to move to Nashville to pursue her music career. “I get to wear two hats at the same time. It keeps things interesting. Plus, I love playing with Ted (McCloskey), Dom (Swentosky) and Rene (Witsky).”
With Davies on board and a carefully selected staff, HVBC has certainly emerged as one of the main players in town for people looking for craft beer, artisan food and live music. The future is wide open, although expanding into multiple locations isn’t in the immediate plans. Right now, Sommers is focused on continuing to solidify what he and Lucchesi have already accomplished, while leaving space for wonder.
“As we add more capacity, we’d like more people to experience the beer,” Sommers said. “The next phase will probably extend into some barrel gaining and souring beers. Nothing is off the table. We’re going to see how it goes, see how the growth is.”
Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail .com.